'Mad Men' recap: Time to fly that freak flag HIGH

Dearest Kathleen,

I'll begin by offering you the following advice: Don't watch "Mad Men" with a hangover. After a ... festive ... Sunday, I can tell you that the doings at SC&P do not digest any better on a jumpy stomach and a light head. Watching Don take in the parameters for his return set by the partners was absolutely excruciating in my fragile state. I suspect you enjoyed that scene, but here I go again with my far too forgiving nature: I think those parameters were absolute bullcrap. DON reports to LOU now? As the WSJ's "Speakeasy" blog brilliantly noted, "Making Don Draper report to Lou Avery is like having Pavarotti report to Wayne Newton." Naturally, I agree and must reiterate something: I hate, hate, hate Lou Avery.

Furthermore, Jim Cutler's insistence on not relying so much on creative types vs technology made my skin crawl. And did Joan need to be so crappy about everything? Was not Don a frequent supporter of hers over the years? (Remember, he did NOT approve of Operation: Shaguar.) Roger was my hero this episode, and he's absolutely right: Don's a genius and you don't waste talent like that--particularly to satisfy a giant cry-baby like Lou, who's merely "adequate." But Roger's whole thing about Don sitting in a client's lobby with Mary Wells on his lap was fantastic. In any case, we need Ted back in NYC pronto; at least he knows how to play the game while still maintaining some creative quality.

You know who's a bigger mess than Don? Betty. I can't fricking believe she was STILL sulking about the Dreaded Sandwich Trade at dinnertime. While everyone likes to blame Don for messing up those kids, let's not forget evil Betty and her apparently perpetual state of arrested development. I do hope she gets an actual job like fabulous Francine; she needs a dose of reality that extends beyond a trip to a farm. Oooh, she's mother of the year because she agreed to be a chaperone. Pul-lease. Although, it was pretty hilarious to see her all prim and coiffed smoking on a bus full of children. Classic.

Steadfastly avoiding Chevalier Noir,

M.

PS. Peggy oughta be ashamed of herself. She can not like Don all she wants, but no points for style with the overt hostility.

***

Dear M,

Sounds like the Chevalier Noir brought a bit of an edge to your viewing of "Mad Men." I like it.

You're right: I did enjoy watching Don while away the day waiting for Roger and the partners to let him come back to work. He deserves it. But, during the final scene when the partners let him back and he agrees to all the parameters (including reporting to the overly obnoxious Lou) I thought I saw a glint of salvation. Yes, it's true. The old Don never would have agreed to the stipulations. The new and improved Don? We'll see if he just wants his job back or if there's a plan. Yes, I'm going with an evil plot of some sort.

Betty, Betty, Betty. What are we going to do with Betty? She is so damaged. She needs counseling big time. I feel sorry for her kids. How long do you think Betty was away washing her hands for Bobby to eat his lunch and trade her sandwich for some candy? And he was right, she never eats. Yet there she was, belittling him at the farm and even later at supper. She is the most self-involved person on the show. She and Don should get back together. They deserve each other.

Soberly yours,

Kathleen

***

KE,

Betty was probably smoking ANOTHER cigarette WHILE washing her hands. Did she always smoke this much? As for her suitability to Don, she's too dull for him to ever consider again. She was a great prop for the life he wanted to create for himself, but now that that house of cards has fallen, I think he'd rather be a lonesome bed-hopper forever than to go home to her — and that constant puss on her face — every night.

Regarding Don's salvation, I'll share with you some insight from our pal Steve Chupaska, who wrote to me last week for some impressions on this season so far.

When I posed the question of whether Don has changed, he said this: "I don't know if all this ends with Don's ultimate salvation. See, what keeps us coming back to Don Draper is the tension between 'inventing yourself' and being a liar. Throughout the series and through Don the writers are taking "To thine own self be true" into the body shop and taking the whole thing apart to see how it works. This isn't to excuse his lying and reprehensible behavior, and the show doesn't do that either. But when he was honest about his upbringing, he got fired, or 'let go' or whatever his status is at the firm. And that's really a meta-joke; he's a man without portfolio, both professionally and emotionally. And what a great image from the season premiere — the sliding door at his apartment that won't close."

Don't you just love us writerly types? So, could it be Don will start honestly filling out those personal portfolios this time around? His first stint at Sterling Cooper was based on lie after lie — the most important being his actual identity. Maybe a gig fueled by honesty will be the ultimate liberation for him.

But I will say this: that shot of Don's hand on the doorknob, when he was about to leave Awkward-Town instead of waiting around for Roger, it made me wonder if his return to SC&P is what will ultimately decide his fate. A lot seemed to weigh on whether he stayed or went. Nervous.

Enjoying a nice seltzer water,

M.

***

Dear M,

Glad you're sobering up ... I mean feeling better.

I did like the hand on the door. There are so many moments when the camera lingers on Don Draper for a half second longer than it needs to, just enough to leave an iconic image of the era. Don smoking while watching the French film "Model Shop" by Jacques Demy (totally cheated and looked it up). Can you imagine there was a time when it was OK to smoke in the movies? Then there's Don on the phone — talking to Dawn, talking to Megan, making dinner plans, holding the rotary phone in one hand, the giant handset pressed to his head, squinting to avoid getting smoke in his eyes. Those are 1960s images for sure. Oh, and to have a dinner at the famed Algonquin in Times Square, one of the first places that let single women rent a room, and where William Faulkner drafted his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: sigh.

But sorry, still don't see Don's redemption. A tiger can't change its stripes and I think Don has been Don for so long, there's no going back.

Look at what he did to Megan, who may or may not be having a breakdown alone in her home in the hills, which seems eerily like a Sharon Tate house to me, minus the pool. I shudder to think of it. And here comes the good husband, who hasn't cheated on his wife in three months, so let's give him a medal. Surprising the little wife, bringing flowers, oh, and then telling her to "stop acting like a lunatic." That's comforting. I don't care that he came clean and told her he hadn't been working and waiting to fix it before he told her. Fixing it would have been getting a job in California, she tells him. I cheered when Megan said she wasn't going to walk out of her own house and he needed to call a cab.

Stay hydrated,

K

***

Good Lady K,

I've shifted to Smartwater, one of our time's great inventions.

Re: the cinematic value of a dreamboat like Jon Hamm, Don Draper is his own best brand. He's a walking advert for...something. What the hell is Don trying to sell us now, I wonder... what does he want to be (or not to be)? Which, naturally, brings Hamlet's great question to mind: is it nobler for Don to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or should he "take arms against a sea of troubles"? (Take that Chupaska!) Shakespeare even offers a third choice: to die (and) sleep no more, and we know this season is hardly short of death watches.

There was one camera shot that showed Don taking a moment to look out the window to that tragic terrace after his phone call to Megan — in which she sounds possibly worse off than she was before his surprise visit/apology tour — and it was gorgeous. Maybe Don oughta consider a career in French movies! The potential Megan freakout alone would be worth such a weirdo plot turn!

And how about Megan dropping the four-letter word that rhymes with "fit"? You don't hear a lot of language like that on the show, so I'll say it's indicating some serious distress going on with her. I might need to put her on suicide watch. Seriously. She even conjures the image of slitting her wrists in a bathtub. Don needs some more sensitivity training, to be sure. That's a red flag, IMHO. No words are wasted on this show.

Cripes. I'm depressed now. Let's lighten up a bit: why do we suppose Peggy is being such a giant jerk these days? Can it really be all because of Ted? Or is she changing, like your Dorian Gray?

Bleh,

M.

***

Dear Sober M,

Glad you're back.

I agree, there was a lot going on last night and much of it depressing — cruel mothers, lying husbands, inconsiderate bosses and snarky coworkers — so let's end on a high note: fashion and accessories.

Love the dresses that all the women are wearing. Simple, short-sleeve, shifts in mod patterns. Joan rocked the best office outfit in that red and white flowered sleek-fitting dress with tall boots — and she didn't have to take them off when she went into Bert's office! That look is totally coming back.

And what was not to love about Megan's crocheted vest and knit skirt. And so authentic in that mustard yellow, sometimes called gold, color. In the '60s everyone had a couch, a chair or a refrigerator in that color, or olive green, another big '60s hue. And I liked the jeans and yellow dress shirt the teacher wore to her father's farm, until Bety and another snide mother commented on her "udders." Apparently she wasn't wearing undergarments — so 1960s.

Have to say, though, the men are looking a bit clownish to me. Bell-bottom pants, wild button-down shirts, and it seems synthetics are sneaking in. I see leisure suits on the horizon, in pastel colors. Even Don, dapper Don Draper, was not at his best in that brown suit. Did love Roger's at-home attire. Was that a bathrobe or a smoking jacket?

'Til next time

K

***

Chic K,

Totally a smoking jacket, in such a classy plaid! I sorta expected him to be clad in one of those fake-silk Playboy logo robes...

And if anyone's going to rock those synthetics, it's going to be Harry Crane, who, I believe, was wearing one of those awful belted jackets Sunday night. As we've discussed, he's a dink (and nowhere near the "most dishonest person" Jim Cutler has worked with).

I wanted to burn that crocheted vest on Megan--and that shirt! I mean, she's lucky she doesn't nauseous from wearing such trippy patterns. That's all she needs! I'm also compelled to mention that in literature, the color yellow is often associated with illness (among other things). PS. Growing up, we had a yellow (rotary) phone, yellow fridge, and, I believe, a yellow dryer.

I truly didn't need to hear the word "udders" used in that context, BTW. Funny how someone so apparently perfect chooses such crass language. Even Betty was taken aback for a sec! (Also, could they have gotten Betty a little cup from which to sample the fresh milk? That bucket looked like it had been through the Depression for godssakes...)

One more fun detail: once again, we get a great closing song: Hendrix's "If 6 was 9"; an indicator of the changing musical/cultural landscape and of Don's — up is down, black is white, and 6 is 9. The sun sure ain't shining, but apparently Don doesn't seem to mind. Or does he? Eagerly anticipating the unfurling of his (in Hendrixian parlance) "freak flag."

Onward to Woodstock!

-M.


We're on Twitter: @edgecombday and @TheMDesk.

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